Hosepipe bans to be lifted at last ... but floods are set to stay

Millions see the end of the 'drought' as yet another severe weather warning is issued

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The Independent Online

Further flash floods are expected today as the effects of 36 hours of continuous rainfall continued to threaten homes and cause rivers to break their banks.

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Torrential downpours of up to 60mm falling on already sodden ground across South West England and Wales saw the Met Office issue another severe weather warning.

Now Thames Water, Anglian Water and Southern Water, which serve about 16 million people, are expected to lift restrictions tomorrow that have been in place since April.

The decision comes after the wettest April on record, heavy rainfall in May and predictions of record rainfall for June.

The Environment Agency had flood warnings in place on four rivers in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and West Sussex where emergency services in boats were dispatched to help 250 people. Rescue centres were set up near the village of Elmer after reports of floodwater rising to 6ft. The A259 near Bognor Regis resembled a river as cars floated away.

Parts of the M3 in Hampshire were also closed due to flooding causing a seven-mile tailback for morning commuters. Three hundred homes were left without power in Oxford.

As bookmakers lowered their odds on the removal of hosepipe bans by Sunday after places such as Brighton experienced nearly three times the monthly average, there were fears the wet weather was set to continue into the weekend after only a brief respite.

Although the deluge has helped replenish water stocks, average rainfall levels for the first six months of the year are only just being reached. It follows two years of drought in England and the driest March for 70 years. Today heavy, slow-moving showers were set to bring more misery. Met Office chief forecaster Andy Page said it would be hard to predict where in South West England and Wales would be hit. "Due to the nature of showers, some areas will miss them altogether, but where they do occur, large amounts of rainfall are possible in a short space of time which has the potential to cause flooding," he said.

As well as the four flood warnings where flooding is expected, the Environment Agency had a further 38 alerts in place, although the threat on 29 rivers had been removed in the past 24 hours.

David Bunt, Environment Agency emergency planning manager for South West region said: "We are keeping a close watch on river levels, as the heavy rain has left many areas more vulnerable to flooding."